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AMERICAN MORNING

Nicholas Berg Investigation; America Votes 2004

Aired May 17, 2004 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 7:30 here in New York. How are you doing today? Are you all right?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm doing all right. And you?

HEMMER: I'm just cheery.

O'BRIEN: Great.

HEMMER: Yes.

In a few moments here, we're going to go back to Iraq today. We're talking with a friend of Nick Berg, the American murdered by terrorists. What Berg was doing there in the country, some of the things that happened with him in his final days. We'll try and sort through it for you this morning.

O'BRIEN: This friend, apparently there's lots of American -- excuse me -- businessmen who are trying to get their businesses started are getting a little boost to their business by going into Iraq, which was interesting to me.

HEMMER: Sure.

O'BRIEN: I didn't realize there was such a large number. We'll talk with him about that.

Also them, we're talking election politics with Ron Brownstein. President Bush has seen his approval ratings slide in recent weeks. Just how vulnerable is he to the negative headlines coming out of Iraq?

HEMMER: All right, top stories here at the half-hour now.

An eyewitness account alleging that U.S. guards stripped, mocked and kicked detainees in that prison in Abu Ghraib. The new details come from Specialist Jeremy Sivits, the first soldier court-martialed, scheduled for that anyway, next Wednesday.

According to published reports, Sivits told investigators that the guards appeared to be enjoying abusing the inmates. Attorneys for some of the other accused soldiers say Sivits' account is part of a plea agreement with the government.

South Korea's ousted president, Roh Moo-hyun, is back in office today, two months after his impeachment. The president had been accused of violating election laws. A constitutional court dismissed the case, saying the violations were not considered serious enough to warrant impeachment. He's the first government official impeached in South Korea.

In U.S. politics, President Bush reaching a campaign high, passing the $200 million mark. That's how much President Bush's supporters have raised for his re-election campaign to date. The president reportedly collected half of that, or 100 million, during his 2000 campaign.

Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry is nearing his fund-raising goal for the primary season. The senator raised about $85 million since January of 2003.

In Massachusetts this morning, a federal judge is blocking an attempt to halt gay marriage. Some conservative groups are trying to stop the nation's first state-sanctioned gay marriages from taking place on Monday. They argue the legality of gay marriage should be a legislative decision, not a judicial one. The case is now being reviewed by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Also in Texas, entire neighborhoods under water after some heavy rain there. Up to 12 inches flooded many parts of the state yesterday, damaging homes, washing out roads and bridges. Despite the severe weather, no serious injuries or deaths reported. Flood warnings do remain in effect today. Some tough stuff going on out there.

O'BRIEN: What a mess. Those floods are so hard to clean up after, too. We used to have them in southern California, the southern part of northern California. Oh, digging mud out of your basement forever. What a mess.

(WEATHER BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Nicholas Berg, the American beheaded by terrorists, will be remembered today in a private memorial in his hometown of Westchester, Pennsylvania. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that suspected terrorist leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, carried out the grisly murder. Zarqawi is considered an ally of Osama bin Laden. The CIA used voice analysis to identify the hooded Zarqawi as the speaker on that videotape.

Joining us this morning from Baghdad to talk about Nick Berg is Andy Duke, his friend. He joins us.

Nice to see you, Andy. Thank you for being with us. Our condolences, of course, go to you, and obviously the family members as well, but all of Nicholas Berg's friends. who I know have been talking about his life over the past couple of days. Give me a sense of how you knew Nicholas Berg.

ANDY DUKE, FRIEND OF NICHOLAS BERG: Well, Nicholas was down the hall from me at the hotel. He was one door away from me. So, I got to meet him a couple of times when he was here in December, and then got to know each other. During the five days before he left we spent some time together. He was in the power business, which is a business that I understand. And basically, he was a very, very brave young man who very much loved his parents, and this is a horrible tragedy. All of us who knew Nick feel terrible for Nick personally, but also for his family and the people that he left behind.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and I would say everybody who has heard this story and didn't know Nick or his family has felt that way as well. He was released from prison in Mosul or a detention center in Mosul on April 9. What did he tell you when he saw you on that day about that detention?

DUKE: Well, Nick actually kind of thought it was sort of funny. I mean, you know, he didn't -- he thought it was crazy that he had been detained, and he couldn't understand why it had taken so long for him to be released.

O'BRIEN: Did he understand? Did he have any clue as to why he was being questioned and what the tone and the tenor of the questions were? I know that the FBI visited with him several times.

DUKE: Unfortunately for you, when I was talking to Nick, I was talking to him more about what he was going to be doing going forward than what had happened to him during that detention. You know, I think he kind of wanted to get it behind him, and he was looking forward to seeing his family and friends and going home to Westchester, taking some time with his parents and siblings.

O'BRIEN: There is some word that he declined an offer to be brought out of the country safely. Does that sound like the Nicholas Berg you know considering what you've said a couple of times now about just how much he wanted to get home to see his family and really get out of that country by that point?

DUKE: It absolutely is consistent with him. I mean, this is a guy who had his own barbells at a hotel. So,, you know, I can -- I don't know. With Nick, and given the circumstances in what subsequently happened, it's impossible to look back and draw any kind of conclusion.

O'BRIEN: When did you first hear about this horrific murder? And what was your reaction to the details that have emerged since then?

DUKE: One of our mutual friends, Cataline Gambus (ph), came up to my room and woke me up and said you have to see this. Come downstairs right now and take a look at what happened to Nick. And I went downstairs.

Shockingly, I had received an e-mail from Nick's mother just a couple of days before, saying that she was -- the family was going to retain a private investigator, and that the investigator would probably be in touch with me. Mrs. Berg is a very tough and persistent woman. I have spoken with her previously, and I knew that.

So then, when I went downstairs and saw this tragic and shocking -- I would also use the word disgusting -- video, I was just very shaken.

O'BRIEN: Do you have any intentions of leaving Iraq now in the wake of this?

DUKE: I think that my intention is not to leave Iraq. I don't want to gratify these terrorists, these murderers by cutting and running. I want to continue with my efforts here on behalf of the Americans and the British people in trying to rebuild the power system and power grid that's here in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Andy Duke, a friend of Nick Berg, joining us this morning. Thanks for joining us to talk about your relationship with him. We appreciate it.

DUKE: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Bill.

HEMMER: About 22 minutes now before the hour. To politics and the president's approval numbers at record lows, but the bad news out of Iraq has not necessarily been good news for his opponent. Senator John Kerry spent about 45 minutes on Capitol Hill yesterday privately viewing the images of Iraqi prisoner abuse. How much can the Kerry campaign gain politically from this and the other news remains to be seen.

CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein with the "L.A. Times" back with us here live in D.C.

Ron, good morning, and welcome back to you.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, Bill. Good to see you.

HEMMER: On the screen, the latest numbers from Gallup/CNN/"USA Today," likely choice still a dead heat, Bush by a point over John Kerry. Approval numbers, the lowest they've been ever for the White House, 46 percent, numbers not promising on the second screen, as you see now. But when one considers the bad news that really has been coming out for three weeks, how do we put all this in context today, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think, Bill, the important thing to remember is that historically in a race with an incumbent president, the president's approval rating is probably the best guide of where things stand, especially before the conventions when the challenger is largely an abstraction to most Americans.

If you look at it historically -- and we've had 50 years with modern systematic polling since the Gallup poll really began looking at this -- we've had eight incumbent presidents running for re- election. The five who were over 50 percent at this point all went on to re-election. The three who were under 50 percent were all defeated, even though there are lots of doubts about the challengers.

So, I think the evidence historically suggests that the key variable in this race is how people feel about President Bush. And right now in the last few weeks under the weight of all of this bad news from Iraq, he has been pushed into what is clearly the danger zone for an incumbent.

HEMMER: You say the danger zone. Take it a step further. You say incumbents are driven by perceptions. You also say John Kerry is essentially running off-Broadway.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HEMMER: That nothing really matters at this point for Senator Kerry.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HEMMER: At what point does that change? When does it matter, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it does matter after the conventions and certainly into the fall. I mean, right now, look, no one, I think, would say that John Kerry is a particularly more compelling or engaging candidate than he was two weeks ago. And yet, if you look at the Pew poll that came out this week, he was up five points nationally, even in your poll six points nationally ahead among all registered voters. A poll came out yesterday in Ohio that showed him up 49-42 in what is the most closely contested swing state, I think, in the minds of both campaigns.

All of that suggests the same thing that history does. Right now, voters are focused on President Bush, on his performance. He's the one that's been living in their living rooms for three and a half years, has made decisions that affected their lives. And as those views have deteriorated about him at the moment, Kerry by hydraulics has gone up.

Now, in the end, Kerry has to convince people that he is a reasonable alternative, but I think the lessons of history suggest that the verdict on President Bush will be the dominant factor. And if voters want to make a change, often they find a way to like a challenger despite his warts and flaws.

HEMMER: I want to pick up on that alternative word you dropped in there at the end. The White House is saying a million jobs have been created over the last five months. If that trend continues, hypothetically now...

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

HEMMER: ... over the next six months, the issue of the economy pretty much goes to the back burner and Iraq becomes even more forefront than it is now. How does John Kerry then differentiate himself to what he wants to do regarding Iraq that is different from the White House, different from the president? Or does he just continue to say, hey, it's bad planning in the beginning and the policy is not working? Because to date, these two men are pretty well parallel with their views on Iraq. BROWNSTEIN: Well, I don't entirely agree with that. I think President Bush has moved closer to John Kerry in some ways in the last few weeks. But you are right in a broad sense.

Kerry's argument from the beginning has been that we need to turn over more control of the political process to the U.N. or some other international body over the political transition. And that would be the way to trigger more help in terms of troops and money from abroad. President Bush has moved in that direction with his reliance on special envoy Brahimi in the last few weeks.

But I do agree with you that if Iraq continues to go south, especially with the pressure on the left from Ralph Nader now running as an anti-war candidate, there will be, I think, pressure on Kerry to move, as he did in the primary, toward a more, sort of an anti-war, perhaps, position, and one that opens more distance with President Bush. I think you will see that pressure as it goes forward.

But right now, Bill, it's President Bush's war. He was the one who made this decision, and he's the one who is bearing the brunt of the discontent. If Iraq turns around given the good news in the economy, he'll obviously be in a very strong position. But it's pretty clear from these past few weeks that if voters continue to sour on that, he will bear a heavy weight through the fall.

HEMMER: Good to talk to you. Good discussion.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

HEMMER: And plenty more to come, huh?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes indeed.

HEMMER: No question. Have a great weekend. Ron Brownstein, thanks.

O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, the world bids farewell to TV's Frasier Crane. A look at last night's final episode is in our "90-Second Pop" just ahead.

HEMMER: Also Brad Pitt, the actor, in the new movie, "Troy." Is he inspiring a fashion trend? Do you know who knows, Soledad? Richard Quest knows the answer.

O'BRIEN: Are you talking about a fashion trend of men in skirts?

HEMMER: It's Friday. Yes, robes and skirts and fighting and things like that. Back in a moment for all of the important news on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Is this Beyonce? Yes? It sounds like it. Somebody on this staff loves Beyonce.

Welcome, everybody. It's a "90-Second Pop" on a Friday. In this episode today, "Frasier's" farewell, also, another diva bites the dust and the truth about reality TV.

Here to discuss this morning, Jessica Shaw from "Entertainment Weekly."

Nice to see you, Jessica, as always.

And we've got two new faces. Joel Stein is a staff writer for "TIME" magazine, and J.D. Heyman, he is an associate editor for "People" magazine.

Nice to see you guys. Welcome, welcome. Joel, let's begin with you. "Frasier" done, over.

JOEL STEIN, STAFF WRITER, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: How was it? I didn't stay up to see it.

STEIN: We all cried, I think. It was OK.

O'BRIEN: Really? Are you being sarcastic or are you really...

JESSICA SHAW, "ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY": Joel gets very weepy. During "Friends," he was a disaster.

STEIN: "Friends" is a three-tissue show, I think, yes.

O'BRIEN: So, what happened. And was it really emotional?

STEIN: No, it wasn't that emotional. It was very "Frasier." There was like some farce thing going on and it seemed kind of smart, and they quoted some Teneson (ph), and you felt kind of smarter than you should when watching a sitcom.

SHAW: It was so predictable, though. It was like there was a birth, there was a marriage. It was like, in the book of how to do a series finale.

O'BRIEN: Remember at the end of "Seinfeld" you sort of felt like, so this is how it's ending? Do you think it was good...

(CROSSTALK)

SHAW: Well, at least they went out on a limb and made it bad. You know, bad is better than mediocre.

J.D. HEYMAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Well, you know, I mean, you're never going to see a show like that probably again either. I mean, if you think about ensemble sitcoms, it's kind of hard to envision the replacement, you know, for a "Frasier" or a "Friends." I mean, we don't really do that anymore, at least we're not doing it now. And, you know...

SHAW: Except for "Joey."

HEYMAN: Well, of course, "Joey." And "Eddie," the spin-off from "Frasier" that will happen. SHAW: Right.

HEYMAN: "Eddie" is going to be a big hit.

O'BRIEN: You know, there are about 10 TV executives who are like, "Eddie," that's brilliant.

SHAW: What a great idea.

O'BRIEN: Get J.D. on the phone.

HEYMAN: I own that idea.

O'BRIEN: Call, J.D., talk to his people.

"American Idol," Latoya London.

SHAW: Yes, huge scandal. Latoya, who was probably the best singer...

O'BRIEN: A huge scandal?

SHAW: I know.

STEIN: What scandal?

O'BRIEN: Because she was great.

SHAW: Because she was the best singer in the whole competition. And Jasmine who...

O'BRIEN: Who broke down.

SHAW: OK, first of all, she sang "It's Raining Men," which, frankly, is reason enough to be voted off the show.

STEIN: Paul Schaffer (ph) wrote that song.

SHAW: OK. Latoya was wonderful. She got voted off, and Jasmine...

O'BRIEN: Why are they -- like, the talented ones seem to be getting voted -- I mean, I don't watch the show.

SHAW: Because Jasmine cried.

HEYMAN: You've got 12 year olds, text message, and vote. I mean, you know, Hawaii voted. I mean, no offense to Hawaii.

SHAW: What is the population of Hawaii, though? Is it like four trillion all of a sudden?

HEYMAN: And they all have...

SHAW: And they all voted for Jasmine?

HEYMAN: Well, and Simon made her cry, you know. Simon made her cry.

O'BRIEN: So, it's no longer actual raw talent. It's just, can you motivate people?

SHAW: Oh, no.

STEIN: No voting system is based on talent, whether it's, like, an election for a senator or my high school or a presidential election. No, but it's true, right? People just like the other people more.

HEYMAN: And Latoya will be fine.

O'BRIEN: She was very gracious.

HEYMAN: I mean, where is your homecoming queen now?

SHAW: Right.

O'BRIEN: She was very gracious.

HEYMAN: Who was in the court and who was over to the left? You know, they're probably doing great. So, the homecoming queen, you know...

O'BRIEN: That's true.

HEYMAN: ... you set a high bar early.

O'BRIEN: Just because you win "American Idol" doesn't mean you're destined for great success.

HEYMAN: That's it.

SHAW: Next week what Simon will do is he won't criticize Jasmine, because that's kind of the curse. When he stopped criticizing John Stevens, he got voted off.

STEIN: Do you think he cares that much?

O'BRIEN: It's a vote against Simon.

SHAW: I do.

STEIN: Really?

HEYMAN: It is. It's an (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Let's talk a little bit about reality TV as a whole, because the cover story on your magazine says it's all faked. That's not really quite true. It doesn't say quite that.

HEYMAN: Well, you know, Soledad, I'm sure you won't be surprised to know that, you know, it's not all real on reality TV.

SHAW: What! What! HEYMAN: I know, it's shocking. At the "Bachelor" house, the bachelorettes are having a few cosmopolitans before they, you know, talk to the bachelor to loosen them up, and, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

SHAW: Like the "Frasier" cast didn't.

HEYMAN: Well, you know, well, that's the thing. You know, you put a bunch of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in front of a keg...

O'BRIEN: So, what's faked? What's faked?

HEYMAN: Well, lots of things. Little things. You know, for example, on "The Apprentice," you know, the boardroom isn't real or, you know, the walk of shame that they do at the end is actually taped before they are fired.

SHAW: Or the job they feel will have is simply not real.

HEYMAN: Well, it's a fictitious job on a construction site that doesn't exist.

O'BRIEN: Really?

HEYMAN: No.

O'BRIEN: Oh.

STEIN: But how many jobs on construction sites don't really exist?

HEYMAN: Well, it is totally...

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. Do you know how many people are doing that exact thing?

HEYMAN: Well, you know, the industry is what it is, but, you know, there are lots of interesting things about it. You know, we...

O'BRIEN: Do you think people care? I mean, do you think people would really care if reality shows are really real?

HEYMAN: I mean, I think when you are watching, you know, Nick and Jessica you know this is "I Love Lucy" for like the low-rise jeans set. I mean, you know it's not real. I mean, so you know they are set-up situations. It's not like they wake up and go, hey, let's go work in a chocolate factory. I mean, they do set that up.

SHAW: Yes, but frankly, I'd rather watch Geri (ph) storm off "Survivor" like she did a couple of nights ago than the "Frasier" finale or the "Friends" finale. I mean, it's just better to me.

O'BRIEN: You would rather watch reality TV then well-written comedies. Look at you...

HEYMAN: Well-crafted...

SHAW: Well, a well-written "Frasier finale?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You know what? You know I love you, but I don't agree with you on this one. Well, you guys, thanks as always for that update. I feel like my world has crumbled. Reality TV is not real. Joel and Jessica and J.D., thanks to ruin my day. Thank you. I appreciate that -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad, thanks. It's Friday. Richard Quest tells us what's going on over there. What's happening -- Richard?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, be afraid. Be very afraid. Men in skirts, and why this is the answer to women's all-over tan. What's keeping it up. I'll tell you in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: All right, welcome back to Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you.

Brad Pitt wears a skirt in the movie, "Troy." And he also predicts that men in skirts will soon be all the rage. Not with this man, it won't be.

Anyway, this idea is raising some hems across the pond, and our man, Richard Quest, is in London, over there, with a revealing look at what's making the news.

Good morning, sir.

QUEST: Good morning. Brad Pitt actually said men will be wearing skirts by this summer. That's my prediction and proclamation, and already it's started to happen, Jack. We've got companies bringing out skirts or skorts. Frankly, I never knew the difference between a skirt and skort, but I'm told there is one.

But companies like Burrberry (ph), Galiano (ph), Vivian Westwood for Men, they're all bringing out skirts. All you've got to decide is whether you want to, but it's not new. Look, men have been wearing skirts for ages.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

QUEST: You remember...

CAFFERTY: The Scots. Sit down.

QUEST: That's right. It's a kilt. It's a kilt.

CAFFERTY: Just sit down. Thank you.

QUEST: Putting a man in a skirt. CAFFERTY: Now, let me ask you a question. You're a bit of a fashion plate. Are you going to be seen about the hot spots of London this summer in a skirt?

QUEST: I'll tell you what, Jack. If I get you to wear a skirt, then I will wear our next invention that I'm going to show you. This is one for the ladies, right? They constantly bemoan the fact about having straps with their bikinis and getting an all-over tan. Now a lady has invented this, right? It is a bikini. Now you may mock, but look.

CAFFERTY: It's a pretty thing.

QUEST: Now you see it, now you don't.

CAFFERTY: Ah-hah, clever, those Chinese.

QUEST: Absolutely. It has got no straps. What is holding this thing up, it's called a demkini (ph). What's holding it up is something called surgical...

CAFFERTY: Careful.

QUEST: Yes.

CAFFERTY: You look like that guy on the Super Bowl. What was his name?

O'BRIEN: Oh, my god!

CAFFERTY: We're about to have a mannequin malfunction here.

QUEST: You're right. Take it from me. What's holding it up is surgical glue that goes on it. And one of the British newspapers has done a bit of a survey, what you can do wearing the demkini (ph). You can't run for the bus. You can't do the gardening. You can't swim in it. But it's extremely good for sunbathing.

CAFFERTY: Well, I'll keep that in mind. Richard, nice to see you. Enjoy your weekend, partner. See you next Friday.

QUEST: Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Richard quest over there.

O'BRIEN: There is something strange about Richard moving around with a mannequin that I just -- wow!

HEMMER: Significant tan lines on that, too.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's actually a brilliant idea.

HEMMER: How about a sarong?

O'BRIEN: Would you wear a sarong, Jack?

HEMMER: No?

CAFFERTY: Are there any openings on "Good Morning America?"

HEMMER: There might be.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, look at this. Would you run toward it? No, of course not. We're going to talk to someone, though, who lives for the chase just ahead. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.


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